Dozens of Iraqi Army Men Arrested in Killings
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
U.S. and Iraqi special forces have arrested at least 59 officers and enlisted men from the Iraqi army. They're accused of killings, bombings and kidnappings. The men were working out of Iraq's military academy in eastern Baghdad.
As NPR's Anne Garrels reports, it's just the latest case linking elements of the Iraqi security forces to sectarian militias and criminal gangs. She sent this report from the Iraqi capital.
ANNE GARRELS: Imagine a bunch of thugs terrorizing West Point. That's more or less what this amounts to. U.S. officials say Iraqi soldiers allegedly murdered the Iraqi military academy's commandant and then kidnapped his successor. They also allegedly recruited military personnel to conduct attacks across the capital.
This is a blow to the Iraqi army. But what heartens U.S. officials is that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense took the lead in this investigation. Every U.S. unit has had problems with Iraqi forces they work with - from simple corruption to sectarian killings. The police, not the army, remain by far the worst offenders. They have been infiltrated by Shiite militias with ties to politicians.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military arrested an Iraqi national police officer. He had access to large quantities of key intelligence, and is suspected of using that information against U.S. and Iraqi forces as well as Sunni communities.
Unidentified Man #1: Black One, roger. I'm going to move up a little farther back on the city. (Unintelligible) what you were talking about, over.
GARRELS: U.S. soldiers on patrol don't trust anyone, least of all, the police with whom many are paired. Earlier this year, this unit in southwest Baghdad proved, with videotapes, that Iraqi police were laying roadside bombs that targeted them. Yesterday, in this same area, another roadside bomb exploded close to an Iraqi police checkpoint.
Unidentified Man #2: There it is right there. See it, sarge?
Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, I see it.
Unidentified Man #4: Black Two this is Black One. Do you say east or west out of the road, over?
Unidentified Man #3: Directly in front of them. I could see it now. It's about…
GARRELS: The Americans arrested five Iraqi policemen on suspicion they were involved or had deliberately ignored those who did plant the bomb.
Major Tom Harris(ph), who trains the police here, says it's hard to get the police who live and work next to the militias to be independent of them.
Major TOM HARRIS (U.S. Army): You know, in our little corner of Baghdad with our national police battalion, it's quite challenging sometimes to get them to band together and say there's strength when we stick together. And I think there is a lot of intimidation.
GARRELS: U.S. officers have decided one way to counter Shiite militia intimidation is to add more Sunnis into the overwhelmingly Shiite police force. As a first step, the U.S. is recruiting Sunni volunteers in Sunni and mixed neighborhoods. The U.S. is then pushing the Shiite Iraqi government to absorb these volunteers into the police force itself.
This week, in southwest Baghdad, hundreds of volunteers turned up to be screened for places at the police academy. In purely Sunni areas, the volunteers recruited are Sunnis. Take Saydiya. It's a predominantly Sunni area, which up to now has been policed by the infamous Wolf Police Brigade. Many of whose Shiite members have been detained by the Americans because they were behind sectarian killings. They were literally the cat among the pigeons.
Colonel Ricky Gibbs, whose brigade patrols the area, has not been able to get rid of the entire Wolf Brigade, try as he might.
Colonel RICKY GIBBS (U.S. Army): I'm not happy with them.
GARRELS: Gibbs has finally managed to get one of Wolf's battalions moved out of his sector replacing it with a more reliable army battalion. But, he says, Wolf continues to do bad things. Gibbs says members of the Wolf Brigade recently helped Shiite militias try to evict 25 Sunni families.
Dr. Ahmer(ph), who comes from Saydiya, describes what happened.
Dr. AHMER: The Wolf Brigade still wanted to support and they're giving the legal appearance for the operation.
GARRELS: It was only when the U.S.-backed volunteers, called American forces, that the sectarian cleansing operation was stopped.
Dr. AHMER: So they make a call to the American forces and say this is happened now. And the American forces arrive.
GARRELS: Dr. Ahmer says the 200 volunteers have helped stop the worse violations, but there's been a cost. Two volunteers have been killed. Four are missing, presumed dead. He says they're caught between Sunni extremists, Shiite extremists and the Wolf Brigade.
Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.